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Definitions & Explanations

Deaf People | Deaf Culture | Definitions | ADA / Rehab Act | Using Interpreters | Be an Interpreter

American Sign Language: ASL is the signed language used by Deaf people in the United States and most provinces of Canada. ASL is not a universal language; it has existed for several centuries in North America, and started out as a mixture of French Sign Language, existing signs brought in by Deaf Martha's Vineyard residents, and home-made signs brought in by Deaf students at the American School for the Deaf (ASD) in Connecticut. However, it wasn't until 1960 when William Stokoe first identified ASL as a native and a natural language. ASL has its own grammatical structure and rules that govern the way words combine to form phrases and sentences. ASL is a distinct language, separate from English. The grammatical structure of ASL has more in common with Romance Languages (such as French, Spanish, or Italian) than it does with English, and there are some words or phrases in ASL that are not easily translated to English or any other language. Like all other languages, ASL has evolved to reflect the needs of its users.

Communication Access Realtime Translation: CART is a method of live captioning which is typically provided during meetings or conferences so that Deaf and hard of hearing people read what is being said. The CART provider is usually a captioner with courtroom typing expertise who uses a court reporting machine to type in text, which is then fed into a computer and displayed on a screen for the audience's viewing.

Certified Deaf Interpreters: The CDI is a deaf person who has been certified to provide interpreting services to deaf consumers who may have linguistic impairments that prevent them from fully utilizing a traditional ASL interpreter. The CDI works as a part of team with a hearing ASL interpreter. The ASL interpreter interprets to ASL and the CDI then interprets the ASL message into a visual communique that is customized to suit the specific needs of the deaf consumer. The CDI may make use of mime, props, circumstantially-relevant language entities, and other mechanisms to ensure that the message is effectively communicated to the deaf consumer. This type of interpreting is sometimes called "relay interpreting." However, a "relay interpreter" is not necessarily the same thing as a CDI since the CDI is a specially-vetted, trained, and certified professional. Using a CDI can make for the most efficient use of time and clarification of linguistic or cultural confusion that may occur with some deaf consumers. The Registry of the Interpreters for the Deaf has a fact sheet about CDIs on their website at

Tactile Interpreting: Some people are not only deaf, but blind as well. When deafblind consumers have little to no vision and need to receive linguistic information by feeling the interpreter's hands while the interpreter signs or fingerspells, this is called tactile interpreting. With tactile interpreting, the interpreter typically sits or stands next to the deafblind consumer while interpreting. Also, the interpreter adds visual descriptions along with the interpreted message. Depending on the consumer's preference, tactile interpreters may either be a CDI or a hearing ASL interpreter.

Low-Vision Interpreting: Unlike deafblind individuals, some deaf consumers have vision impairments that render them able to see signs only at close range. The low-vision the consumer may request an interpreter that specializes in this type of interpreting. In order to ensure that the consumer sees the low-vision interpreter as clearly and easily as possible, spotlights may be placed in such way that they shine on the interpreter's face and hands. Sometimes a screen is set up so that the lights do not disturb other people in the room. The interpreter may sit less than two feet away from the consumer and may be a CDI or a hearing interpreter, depending on the consumer's preferences. If you wish to learn more about both low-vision and tactile interpreting, RID has a fact sheet on their site at

Trilingual Interpreting: There are many deaf consumers, especially in California and Texas, who need to have information translated from English to ASL to Spanish (or some other language). This can be handled by several interpreters: one to interpret the spoken message to ASL, and then another interpreter to translate ASL to Spanish (or some other language). However, with the growing popularity of spoken Spanish, there are interpreters who are able to interpret from Spanish into ASL or from ASL into Spanish. In fact, Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico has established a trilingual interpreting program with the goal of training interpreters who can interpret English, ASL and Spanish, all in one, in order to meet the increasing need for trilingual interpreters.